tv [untitled] May 18, 2012 4:30am-5:00am EDT
volume 4 in the years of lyndon johnson, his multivolume biography of the 36th president. sunday night on c-span's "q & a." >> on monday the communications director to former british prime minister tony blair testified for a second time before a panel examining the culture and ethical practices of the media. the questions focused on the prime minister and mr. campbell's relationship with the press. mr. campbell denied that there was any deal between rupert murdoch and tony blair to gain support from the british newspaper "the sun" during the
1997 election. alastair campbell served as tony blair's press secretary and later communications director from 1997 through 2003. this afternoon's witness is mr. campbell, please. campbell, you're still on oath from your hearing on the 30th of november. i told you you'd be back. >> yes. >> and you provided us kindly with a second statement, dated the 30th of april of this year. and you confirm its contents as true, do you, mr. campbell?
>> yes. >> i'm going to do this by way of theme, if i may, mr. campbell. first of all, mr. blair hiring you in 1994, we have one version in your diary, another version which is very similar in mr. blair's book, "the journey," page 75. he considered you as part of a short list in discussion with mr. mandelson. do you remember that? >> no. i wasn't involved in that discussion. >> it's unlikely given they were wondering whether you were the right person. >> and mr. blair said he wanted a tabloid person and thought alastair campbell would be the best. did he discuss that with you in terms of the need for a tabloid person? >> no. what he said to me when he finally approached me was that he wanted somebody that was strategic, that understood the press, and that would be able to
do the job that he wanted done. so i don't recall it being particularly that he wanted somebody who was from the tabloids, but he wanted somebody that kind of knew that world. >> yes. by that stage of course you'd been political editor of the "mirror" for a number of years, hadn't you? >> had been. but by that time i was an editor on "today," which was then known by "news." >> and according to mr. blair, "i wanted a hard nut and thought he was good. what i got was a genius." >> sweet. >> the last bit i won't ask you to comment on. but the hard nut is obviously an attribute which would be desirable in that post, wouldn't it? >> i think it's possible for somebody who's not necessarily a hard nut to do part of that job. but i certainly think the way that the press and the media were developing you had to be pretty robust and not shy of
engaging in difficult debate. >> in effect you were head-hunted. there were discussions with mr. blair in provence in mid august 1994 which you doubtless remember, mr. campbell. according to mr. blair, you talked half the night alone with you and did the deal. he said, "i gave," that's mr. blair gave, "what assurances i could on peter. do you remember anything about that? >> yeah. i was -- i mean, he'd asked me to do the job. i'd said no a couple of times. and then he asked me again and i went on holiday and said i'd think about it. and then he turned up on holiday. and one of the concerns i had was actually there would be two rival media operations going on and i wanted assurances that wasn't going to happen. >> mr. blair says he was already anxious about gordon's people. is that the rival you were
referring to? >> no. i meant when he talked about peter i meant whether peter mandelson would in a sense de facto want to do the job that tony blair was asking me to do. as it happens, although peter and i had our ups and downs from time to time, by and large most of the time we worked well together. in relation to gordon's people, yeah, there was a sense he had his own team, his own operation. i am very much a team player, and i wanted to be clear that i'd be able to be on the communications side of things to lead that team. >> two rather nice pen portraits of you and mr. mandelson. "peter would slip into the castle through a secret passageway and by nimble footwork and sharp and incisive thrusts of the rapier cleave his way to the throne room." >> is this tony's book? >> yes. and you. "meanwhile, alastair would be a very large battering ram, destroying the castle dates" --
gates. pardon me. "and neither boiling pitch nor reinforced doors would keep him out." >> hmm. >> that's not bad, is it? >> yeah. well. >> "he had great clanking balls as well." >> right. >> let's move on. did you sign a confidentiality agreement when you took this post in 1994 or subsequently in 1997? >> i can't -- i don't think i did. i signed -- i was covered obviously from 1997. i can't remember if i signed a confidentiality agreement in opposition. >> and in 1997, after the first of may you were entering downing street, can you remember whether you were vetted or not? >> i was. >> can you remember when you were approximately? >> i can't remember exactly when. but i can remember being told early on that i would have to
be. i mean, for example, very early in tony blair's first -- we were very big into the northern ireland situation. that was -- i was very much a part of that. so i can't remember exactly when -- i remember being interviewed in my office. i could probably find out the date for you. it may be in one of those large number of books that you have on your desk there. but i can remember being told early on that i would have to go through what they call the dv processes. >> yes. it would have to be said that that was owing to the circumstances in which you immediately found yourself, namely, close to documents relating to northern ireland. >> no. >> it was inevitable. >> no i think it was just assumed that i would have to be because of the -- in the transition there 4 been these discussions with robin butler who was at the time the cabinet secretary. jonathan powell was going to be chief of staff. i was going to be press
secretary. and i think it was assumed that we would be involved in all of the kind of sensitive policy areas that tony blair was going to be taking charge of. so for example, we were -- very quickly we were -- president of the european union. there were lots of nato issues going on. so i think there was an assumption from the w0rd go that i would be. >> i think all i was trying to ascertain, it may be difficult to differentiate this,s whether there was a reason of principle that caused you to be velveted or a series of circumstances that rendered it desirable. i'm not sure it's possible to say which. >> i think it was the former. i think it was made clear to jonathan powell and me that we'd have to go through that process. >> okay. the next name is the murdoch
press. paragraph 9 of your statement. which is our page 07 -- sorry. 00795. >> yeah. >> in essence you explain that it was a neutralization strategy but you ended up doing rather better than that. that sums it up, doesn't it? >> yeah. >> and the reasons from your perspective are pretty obvious. evisceration by the murdoch press during the kinnop years. is that right? >> yeah. >> the 1992 election. you say cause and effect could never be clearly established. is that right? >> yes. >> and the iconic status of the sun. did you feel in 1994 to 1997 that the "sun" did occupy such a status or not? >> no, not really. i think they'd very cleverly marketed themselves as having such a status. and i think that -- i say elsewhere in my statement about there was a kind of sense of hierarchy of which papers were
more important than others, and i think the sun -- i wouldn't call it iconic, but i think it was a significant player. and i think within the media marketplace rupert murdoch then had probably within the press a greater share and greater power than perhaps he does now because of all the changes that have happened with television and internet, social media and so forth. >> put another way, was it particularly important for you either to neutralize the "sun," or at least to win it over? even if the word "iconic" might be -- >> that was certainly one of the things we discuss ed that night in france and it's one of the objectives i sent myself. yeah. the neutralization strategy in a sense was to counter the influence that i had seen as a journalist whosupported the
labour party and to try to ensure that we had a more level playing field where we could communicate to the public what we were trying to do and the changes we were trying to make. >> in terms of which paper was the biggest prize in terms of either the neutralization or best obtaining its support, did the sun fall into that category? >> it probably fell into the category of the only one that might as it were shift position. i couldn't have ever imagined the "daily mail." our approach vis-a-vis the daily mail, for example, was to stop them from being quite so vial. our approach with papers like the express would have been to engage with them. but i would never have expected the express to come out with the labour party and the broad sheets were in a slightly
different space. i worked for the mirror for years. i couldn't imagine the mirror not supporting the labour party. sought sun was in this odd space. although we'd set ourselves that objective, i think if you'd asked me in 1994 do you think the sun would back us in 1997 i'd pro probably said no. >> did you regard having to deal with mr. murdoch and his press as a necessary evil? >> well, i think it was part of the job. i think was part of my job to help tony blair communicate to the public, and part of that was through the media. rupert murdoch there's no point denying is the single most important media figure. and it would have been foolish on our part not to have sought to build some sort of relationship with him. >> did you regard having to deal with him as a necessary evil?
>> well, i don't like the word evil in relation to anyone. but i saw it as a part of my job and a part of what we sought to do. again, as is often clear from my diaries, there was often when i didn't particularly like having to do it. and with tony blair i think there are times when i say including just before the elaboration, i included this in my witness statement where the sun asked for a piece about europe and we talked about whether to do it and we didn't change policy but we knew what they wanted rhetoricwise. i did feel a little bit uneasy at times. but there's no point pretending rupert murdoch is not an important player in the media landscape. and we dealt with him, as has been well documented by all of us. >> the diary entry of yours for
the 29th of january 1997, tb was due to see murdeoch on monday ad said it angered him that the meeting matmattered, but it did. necessary evil might be putting it too high. but still a degree of distaste. would that be closer to it? >> yeah. >> and also the perception that the meeting did matter because it was part and parcel of winning over his support. >> yeah. >> it might be better to say instead of necessary evil a necessary obligation rather than smug went about because you wanted to do it. >> there wasn't an obligation. we didn't have to do it. we could have composen -- i mean, the labor party for some years after the dispute had nothing to do with the murdoch pages whatsoever. we made an active choice, and again, in the diaries neil
kinnock not happy about that at times. so we naid a choice. and the choice was that part of what new labour was trying to do was schmo there was no part of public opinion we were scared of, no part of public opinion we thought we couldn't take our message. and it's hard if you don't have access to the preps. >> but isn't that a little bit why it was actually for you and the perception you had an obligation? i'm not saying by that that it was something you couldn't not do. >> i inferred from obligation a sense of duty. i don't think we had the duty to do that. i think tactically it would have been very -- it would have been lacking good sense not to have done it. >> is it the relationship and the perception of the significance of the relationship that actually runs through the whole thing, isn't it? >> yeah. >> given that mr. murdoch was not quite in the same place politically as new labour, did
not the very fact of trying to obtain his support entail making compromises by new labour? >> i don't think so. because i don't think we as it were went out to him and said rupert would -- and i say in my statement far more important, and this isn't just about murdoch. because murdoch's the biggest figure and because the phone hacking has led to this inquiry there's been a huge amount of focus on him but this goes right across the media panoply. i was in charge of tony blair's media operation. we had strategies for all of these papers and we had approaches to awful these papers. but i certainly think with mr. mushed okay, for example, you asked me in the questions in advance about the visit to the hayman island. i was never in doubt that was a good thing to do. because he gave us an opportunity to in a sense use that event as a broader public platform and it gave us an opportunity to set out for a
huge number of editors and executives around the world what new labour was about. i think it would have been crazy not to do that. >> did you have any previous dealings as it were with mr. murdoch when you worked for "today"? because that paper was then in the murdoch stable, wasn't it? >> yeah. and to be fair, i worked there under richard to the. had we worked together at the mir okay, been my editor there. and essentially we turned today from a broadly right of center paper to a broadly left of center paper and i don't ever recall rupert murdoch interfering on any level with what we were trying to do there. obviously, he spoke to richard scott from time to time. and i would compare that with for example when i worked with robert maxwell who did have a fairly interfering approach. >> when we move forward into '95 and you begin to have personal dealings with mr. murdoch, you're doing that really without
much prior experience of him, is that right? >> yeah. >> paragraph 9 of your statement, 00795, you say about eight lines down you believe the sun backed us because they knew we were going to win. we didn't win because they backed us. i mean, is part of the thinking there that mr. murdoch likes to back winners or not? >> yeah. look, i think rupert murdoch has a very strong set of political beliefs. he's fundamentally right wing on most issues. i think he's somebody who -- he's a news man. he's very interested in stories. he's interested in powerful people. but i think there is a sense that he likes to back winners. and i think he's -- as gus
o'donald said to you this morning by then i think it was fairly obvious we were probably going to win the election. but i do think by this point this point about the perceived power that people talk of of newspapers that dictate elections, i just don't buy it. the last election david cameron had the endorsement of, you know, virtually all of the newspapers and didn't get a majority. so i think we've got to be careful about this. where i think they have an influence is in the establishment of an overall agenda where the political debate clears out. >> let me just ask you to comment on a paragraph in mr. powell's book, "the new mac ya veli," which is page 190. he's giving his perception of what was happening at this time. "our primary target was rupert murdoch, and tony went out of his way to woo him." would you agree with that? >> i don't like the word woo.
but he was certainly the most important media player without a doubt. >> then mr. powell continues, "i had been told by the sunday times correspondent in washington that the american economist and economist irwin steltzer was a confidant of murdoch's and the best way in to him." do you agree with that? >> no. i think the best way in to rupert murdoch was via rupert murdoch. >> well, maybe mr. powell is putting it just a notch too high. but if murdoch's not available, the best way to mr. murdoch, i think he's suggesting, is through mr. steltzer. does that overstate it or not? >> i think it probably does. i think from where we were in the uk -- irwin steltzer's a very clever, very close to rupert murdoch. so were quite a few other people we dealt with almost on a daily basis. the people editing newspapers here, les hinton and all sorts of people. >> so one would certainly have to add to the list other
individuals, is that correct? >> yeah. >> tony struck up a friendship with irwin that lasted throughout his time in government, and he helped tony win over murdoch. is that true or not? >> it may be. i think that irwin steltzer became somebody that liked tony blair, liked what new labour was doing and probably was part of the discussions that were going on within that particular newspaper group. but i think we were always conscious that in terms of any decision that there would be about who they would back at the 1997 election that there was kind of -- that was a decision that would ultimately have been made by one man. >> mr. powell talks about the trip to heyman island, which of course we all know about. he continues, "tony put great efforts into maintaining the relationship right throughout his time in government and thereafter." >> yeah. >> and the issue of any
tradeoffs, mr. campbell, this is paragraph 49 of your witness statement. page 00823. >> mm-hmm. >> can i deal with it bluntly in this way? are you able to assist the inquiry from your own knowledge of any evidence which would suggest that an express deal was made between mr. murdoch, mr. blair, or mr. blair's government? >> i don't think there ever was such a deal. >> could we be clear, mr. campbell, on what that answer's based? i'm not asking you to comment. i'm just skug from your own knowledge if you knew of such a deal you would tell us because i've asked you to tell us. do you have any evidence of such
a deal? >> no. absolutely not. >> in terms of the possibility of implied trade-offs or unspoken supplications, paragraph 49, you refer there to -- i think we probably asked you to look at the big bad bastard comment, which is mr. paul keating, who was then of course the labor prime minister in australia, wasn't he? >> yeah. >> you cover this in your diaries, volume 1, pages 247 and followi following. you set out part of the citation. page 247. on the 16th of july, 199 5. >> mm-hmm. >> on murdoch he told tb he's a
big bad bastard and the only way you can deal with him is to make sure he thinks you can be a big bad bastard too. >> mm-hmm. >> you can only -- you can do deals with him without ever saying a deal it done. >> mm-hmm. >> but the only thing he cares about is his business and the only language he respects is strength. and then a little bit later lat say, if he thinks you're a winner, he would prefer to be with you than against you. >> yep. >> obviously, mr. campbell, you weren't taking notes while this conversation was going on, but did you record it that evening in your diary, or how does it come about that we see it in inverted columns? >> i did quite often take notes in meetings, but i can remember that -- i can't remember exact words and that conversation, but i can remember the advice very clearly, and it was good advice. i think he said later, he said
you have to remember it is all about ruper. rup erke 1, 2, 3 and 6. if you can get help, get it. you need all the help you can get to win elections. and this is coming from someone who has quite a bit of experience dealing with rupert murdoch. >> that's page 239, the last paragraph for the entry for that day. the reference today, overestimating the importance of their support for you. the "they" is the reference to the murdochs, is it? >> yeah. i think it relates to the point i made earlier. i think newspapers do overstate their own importance, and i think politicians overstate it as well in terms of endorsements at elections.
>> with mr. keating, you can do a deal with him without saying a deal was done. what is he suggesting? that it's done with a nod and a wink or something else? >> i think he is explaining what he goes on to say, that he needs to know, is the big, bad bastard point. he needs to know that you can be as tough as you need to be, and i think -- you see, again, i think in relation to this whole area of policy, for me there's been all this focus on our media management techniques and so forth, you know, and endless books written about it and so forth. y i don't think it's that important. what would be wrong is if there ever were the kind of tradeoff you were talking about, and i don't think there is any evidence of such a tradeoff. on the contrary, i think if you
were to talk to people that worked at sky, i think they would argue that rupert murdoch's political profile and the sort of general median neurologists around him probably led to decisions being made around sky than at other companies. if you looked at the big policy decisions we took, the biggest in the media was probably the rise in the bbc license fee. they weren't terribly happy about that. i think mr. murdoch said in his evidence not happy about that. he tried to take over methodist united and was blocked. the digital search, the differences, itv, channel 5, lots of areas where you would be hard pressed to say that the murdochs and the murdoch businesses were getting a good deal in the labor government. >> as to what mr. keating was saying, wasn't he simply saying
this. unless mr. murdoch, too, think you're a big, bad bastard, there is no point in thinking you can do a deal with him because he will think you are weak. but the way he operates is by implied deals, by nods and winks. isn't that the message mr. keating was trying to get across to you? >> i don't think so. i think he was saying what he says in that broader context that i've set out in the statement. but i certainly think that the rupert murdoch would have been -- might have been thinking that historically he had had failed businesses with the labor party, it looked like it was going to be labor government, historically they would not have gone after whatever it might have been, so my point was i was never witness to and don't believe there was ever a discussion that said, now,